You say you want irresolution: Gen X at middle age

imageWe’re very close to blowing it. Or maybe we already blew it. It’s hard to say, which, ironically, is the essential stance of Generation Maybe.

We’re blowing it/blew it because Generation X, we post-Baby Boomers, have hit middle age and thus are becoming increasingly undesirable and unhireable, except possibly by those corporations hoping to tap into our vast resources of pop culture trivia, of which we are indeed the Greatest Generation.

With the Boomers clinging to power and the Millennials nipping at our irrelevant heels, demographically we’re middle management. Things have not necessarily turned out as we had hoped, and we’re running out of time and muscle tone.

It’s not a bad life, by any means. We’re healthier and better balanced than any previous generation. Our menfolk cook and clean and the womenfolk hunt and gather and no one bats an eye. We grew up in analog and easily embraced the digital, learning to appreciate the past while deftly navigating our Netflix account. Our hair is no longer ridiculous but still pretty darned important. And we’ve mostly gotten over ourselves. In short, we’ve become mature, respectable, generally happy citizens.

But like the slackers they claimed we were, we never quite reached our potential. We are solid B students, voted Most Likely to be Likeable.

The tragedy of this after-school special is that we could have done it all. We had the affluence and the know-how. Growing up in the shadow of the sixties, we were close enough to co-opt the culture but distant enough to make sense of it. For example, while we were a bit jealous of all that free love, we looked upon the wreckage and said, “That’s messed up. Oh, and thanks for all the AIDS.”

And while we cringed under the everyday threat of nuclear annihilation (which turned out to be less scarring than predicted), we saw straight through the political propaganda. Gen X kids were no patsies. Yet we numbly succumbed to the superficial, distracting ourselves for hours and hours over setting our screen-savers and wondering what exactly was the deal with Prince’s moustache; did he purposely grow it that filmy or was that the best he could do?

And there’s the problem. Generation X has never taken much seriously. We’re not passionate about the environment, just very, very concerned. We’re aware of politics but not political. We like the idea of getting involved but not the actual involvement.

When it comes to the world’s problems, some of which we inherited, some of which we caused (yeah, about that plastic in the ocean…), it’s as though Gen X took one of those Chinese puzzles and threw it aside, saying to the next generation, “I can’t figure the damn thing out. You try.”

Sorry about that, next generation, but it was, like, totally hard.

It’s easy to look at ourselves and feel disappointed, and if ever a generation was good at looking at themselves, it’s Gen X.

Still, we’re only halfway through. Don’t count us out yet.

For starters, we’re probably the first generation to really get along with our kids. This is because the culture in the last 25 years has hardly evolved, certainly nothing like the sweeping changes of the 40 years prior. Sure, there’s the digital age, but Gen X hopped on that wave from the Atari start. As a result, we relate better, and our children are well adjusted and happier as a result, so well-adjusted, in fact, that they may be capable of achieiving what we didn’t. Hopefully, they won’t be fried by the disastrous climate mess we’ve left them. Again, sorry about that. But hey, remember that constant threat of nuclear doom? You get used to it.

Secondly, we’re entering the age when we will naturally fill political roles. Having confirmed from the sidelines that revolution doesn’t work, here’s where all that dispassionate awareness comes in, that B-average general knowledge, that ability to be open without being suckered. Generation X doesn’t do revolution. We do reconciliation. We are kings and queens of compromise. Culturally, this is advanced post-testosterone thinking.

imageCanada has its first Gen X prime minister, and he’s the whole Gen X package: swinging parents, the product of divorce, well educated, well rounded, nerdy, friendly, feminist, and let’s not forget the hair. Still important the hair. With the first rule of Gen X being “Be cool,” Justin Trudeau appears to have decided to run the country in accordance to the second rule, namely, “Be decent to people.”

This is really the only conviction we have, wrought from too many viewings of The Breakfast Club, but it works. Be decent to people. That’s it. See both sides, have empathy, work things out, share, don’t take all the doughnuts, recognize that some people actually like Adam Sandler.

After the black-and-white years of “I Would Eat a Baby” Boomer Stephen Harper, is this our time? Will Trudeau demonstrate that the grey way is finally how Gen X fulfills its potential? It’s hard to say.

P.S. My generation and Canada take no responsibility for Ted Cruz.

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About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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38 Responses to You say you want irresolution: Gen X at middle age

  1. franhunne4u says:

    Right there with you, Ross. The first generation that could be childfree by choice and still have sex. The first generation where a holiday at the other side of the planet is just “Keeping up with the Joneses” – (Who said there something about climate warning?)
    The first generation here in Europe that went by without a mass-killing war. (The serial murders from terrorists are no war – they are just that – murders.)
    We were in fact the last generation here in Germany whose education was mainly state-financed – and the first too. Up to the 50ies you had to pay for higher education here, and for quite a while the young ones have to pay more for their university education than I had.
    Let’s see how the young ones will cope with the problems we dumped them in (not me, though :P) – an ageing society, more people being fugitives, and then comes TTIP …

  2. Dina Honour says:

    Bill and Ted’s Excellent Generation. Be decent to each other, dudes. But….I’m actually ok with that. In the large scheme of life, compromise and getting along, listening to the other side and beginning to realize that the similarities are often more numerous than the differences, those things are pretty decent things. Plus we had John Hughes. The Millennials don’t have a John Hughes. The only thing I’d say about the not reaching full potential bit is that I think we were raised not to expect, not to feel entitled (as much as I hate that word) and not to toot our own horns. That is, you did the work, the result was the achievement in itself kind of blather. You didn’t call yourself a chef because you could make toast. You didn’t not get out of bed for less than 100K, you didn’t expect you were owed a career because Adam Levine liked the way you sang on The Voice. I think Gen. X was raised at the tail end of ‘you work to live, not live to work’, where you took a job to pay the rent and it didn’t have to be a soul-fulfilling career or give you joy. It just had to put food on the table and a roof over you heads. Perhaps we didn’t chase our dream jobs because we didn’t know they existed and the idea of a ‘job’ being a dream a generation or two down the line. Good stuff, I really enjoyed this!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Hmmmm, very interesting. Of course, any musing along these lines is shaded by one’s own experiences, but I see a lot of familiar in what you say. At the same time, we were pretty self-satisfied. I remember talking a lot about changing the world and following our dreams. But it’s true, I never had a sense that I was entitled to any of it. Thanks for the thoughts.

  3. I like being part of Generation X. We’re an algebra problem. What x represents varies wildly. Now, self-satisfied is dubbing yourselves “The Greatest Generation”. Honestly, it’s like Trump saying he has “the best words”. It’s a tad too self-congratulatory, since human nature, as admirable and despicable as it can be, manifests itself in every generation. But we probably have some bad karma coming to us for parachute pants and the movie “Weird Science”:

    • rossmurray1 says:

      One thing I wanted to add but didn’t was that we learned from the mistakes of our upbringing. Louis CK had a bit not long ago about growing up a little bit racist. It’s just the way it was. Same with sexism. We’re far from perfect but at least we work through those imperfections.

  4. walt walker says:

    Awesome! I feel like you got all telepathic up in my subconscious and said all the things I kind of knew I was thinking but couldn’t have articulated. At least not as well, or as pleasantly, or as Canadianly. Seriously, though. Great piece. I nominate you to speak on behalf of all Gen Xers from now on. Even the those of us down here in Texas, who may or may not be somehow partially responsible for Mr Cruz.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Really? That’s great, because I’ve been struggling with this. Hard to speak beyond generalizations. Our experiences are ultimately diverse, with only the culture as the common background. As for Cruz and his ilk, it’s not your fault.

    • pinklightsabre says:

      Yes, agreed — the Chinese puzzle image really did it for me, the phrase we like the idea of political involvement but not the actual involvement. Gosh, I relate too much to it all. I even have a Slacker pin I wear on the lapel of an old jean jacket, got it at a Head shop in Pittsburgh in 93. See, pretty good at looking at myself eh?

      • rossmurray1 says:

        It’s amazing how general generalizing can be. I’m a bit of the crust on that demographic slice of pie, but you! You’re all cherry filling. (This is starting to sound gross now. I’m done.)

  5. Ned's Blog says:

    I still like to think of myself as coming from a generation that stands up for what it believes in. It’s just that we’re usually sitting down now when we do it.

  6. I can relate well to a lot of what you have said here, even though I’m a late-stage boomer. I was much too young for the summer of love and all the other iconic boomer events, but a little too old to be gen-x. Judd Nelson, the oldest of the BC actors, is the same age as me, but the other actors are quite a bit younger. My “tweener” age has left me feeling out of sync with the boomer generation and not quite a gen-xer, either. Great post.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I’m right at the start of Gen X and by some calculations not at all. As the youngest of four in my family, I definitely grew up in a post-war family. My parents were born at the start of the Depression and were coloured by its austerity. My peers and I truly pined for the sixties, feeling we’d just missed it. In high school, it was The Who and the Doors. Thankfully I had a friend (straight as straight can be) who was into punk, otherwise I would have missed out on all of that, I’m quite certain. All that said, I ID myself as Gen X more than Boomer.

  7. List of X says:

    I kind of miss the threat of nuclear annihilation. It used to give this sense of “enjoy the moment, because it might be your last”, which helped put things in perspective.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Yes, hard to get the same reaction with, “Hey, baby, the world might slowly but inexorably dissolve into a chaos of rising seawater and drought. What’s say you and me get it on.”

  8. ksbeth says:

    it seems that instead of the ‘me’ generation, we have become the ‘meh’ generation. p.s trudeau is hot.

  9. gavinkeenan says:

    It’s like so…decent of you to blog this. I’m not sure the X-ers in the states have gotten this far along generational slide rule. (Sorry, that’s so boomer of me)

  10. Paul says:

    Sigh. I thought we were doing so good until i read your post. What a bunch of slackers we are, unable to get passionate about much of anything. I do cling to one thing we did on a global scale – we identified the problem, identified the cause, changed our global behavior, and the problem was fixed over the entire planet- never to recur. When all is said and done in 1,000 years time historians will look back on our generation and say : “They fixed the hole in the ozone layer.” I think we should celebrate this achievement (never mind that we made the hole -shhhh) and have an Ozone Day and wear Ozone T-shirts. It is our legacy. When the global warming we started proves to have passed the tipping point and the Earth becomes a steaming jungle and all the cities are gone and there is only 1/2 the landmass because the ice cover is all gone and the flood has covered everything, and humans are forced underground because of the intolerable surface temperatures, we can at least tell everyone who criticizes us: “Yes but if we could still live on the surface we wouldn’t have to worry about the Ozone layer because we fixed that.”

    • rossmurray1 says:

      “The glass is half full of seawater” kind of thing.

      • Paul says:

        Exactly – as an epitome of our generation, I see on the news as I write this that Rob Ford will lie in “repose” at Toronto city hall for two days. That would be like burying Napoleon in Russia because you felt bad that he never did beat the Russians.

  11. Hi Ross — you had me at the Breakfast Club photo.

    But seriously, I don’t think that it is Gen X who dropped the ball, exactly. Rather, I think we patiently waited for the reins to be handed over (to mix a metaphor), only to find out too late that the Boomers had no intention to do so. I for one would have enjoyed (about a decade ago) stepping into some meaningful role in life beyond husband and father (not that there’s anything wrong with those), only to have been laid off in favor of some Boomer colleagues.

    It’s not that we can’t do, its that we weren’t asked to join the team. Now that I’m pushing 50, it is really late in the game, as you pointed out.

    We’ll have a few Gen X stars, like Trudeau, or my favorite, Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn). But for the rest of us, opportunity will pass us by and lodge with the next generation.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Yes, I’ve heard that complaint before. All the more reason to do right by our kids. I’m thankful to be living in Canada where higher education is still relatively affordable. Not that that will make it any easier for the poor kids.

  12. I love this post. I feel like you’re describing me. I’m childless, moderately ambitious, politically aware, yet don’t really do anything other than vote. But I’m cool with it. I like to travel, hang with my cats, do Tarot readings. No big deal.

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